Public Comment

Commentary: Call for a Moratorium on the Approval of Cell Antenna Applications

By Michael Barglow
Monday May 19, 2008 - 04:07:00 PM

Once again, Berkeley’s position on cell antennas is on the City Council agenda. 

This Tuesday, May 20, the council will consider an item introduced by councilmembers Anderson, Spring, and Worthington. The item calls for a moratorium on cell phone antenna installations.  

This item stems from efforts made by Berkeley Neighborhood Antenna-Free Union (BNAFU) and the Le Conte Neighborhood Association to oppose the antenna installation application made by Verizon and Nextel for UC Storage located at 2721 Shattuck Ave. BNAFU has recently brought a lawsuit against Verizon, Nextel, the City of Berkeley, and the developer/landlord, Patrick Kennedy. 

The Le Conte Neighborhood, other Berkeley neighborhoods, and BNAFU believe Berkeley’s current ordinance is not strong enough. BNAFU is asking the City Council to call for a moratorium in order to draft a legal ordinance that addresses legitimate citizens’ concerns. In order to develop the best possible ordinance and to preserve and improve safe cell phone coverage in Berkeley, it is the position of BNAFU that a six-month moratorium is necessary. 

There appears to be a growing consensus among independent radio frequency (RF) engineers that low-wattage cell antennas spread evenly throughout cities are wiser and more equitable than higher-wattage antennas concentrated in lower-income areas. Higher-wattage antennas serve the higher-income areas, but less efficiently and less safely than if those antennas were dispersed more evenly. The further a cell phone user is from an antenna, the more RF radiation they receive from their phone pressed against their ears. 

The inequity of the present system of antenna distribution in Berkeley (14 locations in South Berkeley, two in North Berkeley, none in the Berkeley Hills) has meant that some neighborhoods are unfairly exposed to many more antennas than are other neighborhoods. Simply on the basis of aesthetic concerns, this reality is unfair. We believe that the burden of cell antennas should be shared roughly equally by all Berkeley citizens.  

No one disputes that antennas could be of much lower wattage if they were dispersed evenly. In fact current telecom practice, in order to get a network up, is to start in a city with one or two central locations in commercial areas away from residences. These locations have towers of 80-90 feet. Subsequent antennas decrease in wattage so that service areas per antenna are minimized and the network as a whole provides adequate coverage 

The city of Irvine and other cities in California have already begun the process of re-drafting their ordinances with the above considerations in mind 

Clearly, our city needs time to carefully assess this option—wider distribution of lower power antennas—and time to examine how other cities are redrafting their ordinances along these lines  

Berkeley had a moratorium a number of years ago to draft its first ordinance. It is time to revisit this issue in light of the problems and criticisms that have developed with that ordinance and its enforcement, both from the standpoint of dissatisfied neighborhoods and dissatisfied telecom companies. It is also time to create a new much more sensible policy based on the new understanding that is developing in the field of RF engineering. 

Initially, the smaller, less powerful antenna choice represented above may cost the telecoms more, but will benefit Berkeley citizens more. We ask the City Council to institute a moratorium. Opt for communities over quick profit. 

We ask Berkeley citizens to attend Tuesday night’s City Council meeting to support the moratorium. 


Michael Barglow is a member of Berkeley Neighborhood Antenna-Free Union.